HomeFootballThrough My Lens: Wishing U.S. football had soccer’s universal appeal

Through My Lens: Wishing U.S. football had soccer’s universal appeal

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Many exciting sports events were happening all around the world last weekend. These included the Super Bowl, the African Cup Finals and the Asian Cup Finals. For me, the experience was particularly memorable as I found myself seated on the couch beside a longtime Mainer who eagerly explained American football rules to me whenever I needed clarification. Surprisingly, unlike previous years, I remained awake, engaged and felt truly more American. Part of me wished the rest of the world was watching the Super Bowl, too, just as they watch the soccer finals. Few people outside the borders of the United States pay much attention to the big game.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at noriftin@gmail.com.

While the Asia and Africa Cup of Nations may not have garnered as much attention here, big soccer games are certainly highly anticipated and covered across the rest of the world. Traveling overseas, one notices that soccer games are prevalent on television. When the English Arsenal plays the Spanish Real Madrid during the championship, you’ll find the same soccer match broadcast in restaurants across Nairobi, Kenya, and London, igniting cheering and celebration across continents. When the news broke last year that the renowned soccer player Lionel Messi would be moving to Miami to play for Inter Miami, it caught the attention of the world. Suddenly, all eyes were on the United States and on Inter Miami, and it felt like a pivotal moment for American soccer.

Growing up in a place where soccer reigns supreme, and as a player myself, I’ve always been captivated by its universal appeal. Soccer transcends borders and languages, connecting people from all walks of life through its simplicity and accessibility. The rules and terminology of soccer are straightforward, making it easy for fans anywhere to understand and enjoy. Whether it’s the suspense of a penalty kick or the thrill of an offside call, soccer has a unique way of uniting communities and bridging continents. My memories of the 2002 finals match between Germany and Brazil are still vivid, with my entire city buzzing with excitement as we gathered at local spots to watch it unfold, and with me knowing the name of every player on both teams.

Consider, for example, the Cup of Nations championships this past weekend where teams from Africa and Asia fiercely competed for victory. The tournaments not only showcased remarkable talent but also inspired countless young individuals to pursue athletic aspirations. I vividly recall a period during Somalia’s civil war when players such as Jay-Jay Okocha of Nigeria, Ronaldinho of Brazil and Zinedine Zidane of France served as sources of solace and optimism. Today, figures like Yaya Touré, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, who rose from humble beginnings to attain global recognition, symbolize hope for budding athletes in their communities.

American football with its intricate terminology and rules can seem inaccessible to newcomers and people across the globe, but I think it could also be embraced and maybe reintroduced overseas by those of us who speak various languages. I have a couple of immigrant friends in Minnesota who are huge fans of the Vikings. A quick chat with them helped me realize that football terminology isn’t as daunting as I initially thought. Just as we did with soccer’s terminology, American football can also be learned, and we can find our own ways of explaining it. The Vikings are the reason why so many Somali-Minnesotans got into football. Here in Maine, the Patriots are my team, only to challenge my friends in Minnesota, much like how the English Premiere League Liverpool team is my favorite soccer team. Sports are fun when we argue with friends.

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